Hackers are targeting nuclear power plant operators in the US

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Workers confer at the Turkey Point Nuclear Reactor Building in Homestead Florida

Hackers believed to be working for a foreign government have recently penetrated the computer networks of power plants across the USA, including a nuclear facility in Kansas, according to reports published Thursday.

According to a joint report obtained by The New York Times, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have confirmed that hackers have targeted nuclear facilities in the United States since May of this year. The report did not provide details of the cyberattacks, but the Kansas-based Wolf Creek said its systems were not affected, according to the Times.

The government report didn't indicate whether the objective of the cyberattacks was espionage or physical destruction, but researchers concluded that hackers appeared to be mapping computer systems for future attack.

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But the Times said an "advanced persistent threat" actor was responsible.

Had the plant been successfully hacked, the attack would have to be reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which would have to inform the public, said John Keeley with the Nuclear Energy Institute. Two people familiar with the attacks told the Times industrial control engineers are primarily being targeted, because they have direct access to systems that, if harmed, could lead to explosions or hazardous material spills. However, the report did include that the hackers "appeared determined to map out computer networks for future attacks". The paper said this is the language hacking experts often use to describe government-backed hackers. Some officials suspect the hack may have had origins in Russian Federation but again, sources emphasize no final confirmation has been made. When the recipients clicked on the documents, hackers could then steal their credentials, the Times reported.

Energy, nuclear and critical manufacturing organizations have frequently been targets for sophisticated cyberattacks. In a 2013 executive order, President Barack Obama called cyberattacks "one of the most serious national security challenges we must confront".

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